“Everyone deserves a safe education”

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Content warning: This article mentions harassment and sexual violence which some readers may find upsetting.

For most, the university experience is but a short few years to look back on fondly as some of the best of your life. However, recent surveys highlight 70% of female students and recent graduates have experienced sexual violence: and of course, as we all know, these only account for those who have spoken up. This statistic highlights a stain on the university memories of many, and the sheer number is indicative of a pervasive culture that normalises such experiences.

This past week, I had the pleasure of chatting with some of the women working to ensure a safe education for all. and form a part of the core team at Safe Education, a brand new student-led campaign committed to tackling the culture and response of harassment and sexual violence at Durham. They want readers to know that “it’s not normal to not feel safe at uni.”

The launch of this campaign comes at an important time where sexual violence is in the limelight and dialogues are beginning to open. Two important factors set this campaign apart, though: first is their conception of harassment and sexual violence as being linked. Serena and Bella point out that, after all, it is “the same systems and case handlers” for both issues within the University. This is important because it clarifies and broadens the scope of what is and is not acceptable behaviour, problematising everyday misconduct that tends to go unchallenged despite the real impacts they have. 

The launch of this campaign comes at an important time where sexual violence is in the limelight and dialogues are beginning to open

The second significant aspect of is their emphasis on practical measures. While it is so important for the campaign to facilitate a safe space for open communication, Bella stated that “implementation is so central to our cause”. In fact, it is through practical measures that hopes to fuel these conversations. 

Their biggest project at the moment involves drafting ideas to bring to the University to reform the current Consent Course. They have been working alongside as well as the Student Union President, Dan Lonsdale, whose support has been so appreciated. The campaign is calling for a “survivor informed approach” which emphasises education. Their ideas include mitigating the “digital distance” of the current online consent course by supplementing it with multiple in-person talks. This seeks to encourage asking questions and also give the opportunity for student feedback to facilitate ongoing dialogue. 

Currently, the campaign sees “institutions” as “treat[ing] the symptoms” but by developing the opportunities for education they hope to challenge the “culture of fear, silencing and intimidation” on campus. This culture, as well as the lack of a centralised system for reporting experiences of harassment and sexual violence, acts as a deterrent for survivors. As such, this constitutes a barrier to a safe education for Durham students. For Safe Education, there needs to be greater transparency and advertisement of core procedures from the university to overcome this. It was important for Bella and Serena to emphasise their hopes to work with the university on this, believing they have the opportunity to help “both the institution and students.”

Furthermore, they share that although the course is “compulsory” in theory, in reality a third of students have not completed it. With university statements going no further than “encouraging” completion of the course, this highlights the need for a change. This is especially prevalent given has one of the highest number of rape, sexual assault and harrassment reports across UK universities.

When asked about their feelings of having to take on this work themselves to see change, Bella stated that she “does [her] best to frame it as empowering.” Serena admits that “it is really sad” but also that it is crucial “to be part of the change you want to see.” Bella described the desire to “pull on the thread” that will eventually unravel “the carpet” that constitutes the deep-rooted culture of harassment and sexual violence at Durham. Both praise the community around them at and the “wonderful group of women” leading their core team in this mission. 

This “is not just a woman’s issue”

Their message is clear: “everyone deserves a safe education and everyone is also responsible for trying to create that for other people.” This “is not just a woman’s issue”, Serena emphasises.

Collaboration, community and education are at the heart of Safe Education, and I, for one, cannot wait to see the positive, material changes this campaign makes to the culture of Durham University. If anything should define ’s reputation, let it be this.

You can click here for ’s Instagram page.

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